The social construction of the mature student experience
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Using a Social Constructionist lens, this study gathers fresh empirical data on the experience of a “Mature Student”, examining its multiple constructions, both objective and subjective, within the context of a Scottish Ancient university. For six centuries, Ancient universities have held expectations that incoming students will adjust to fit the autonomous institutional culture. However the expansion of Higher Education in 1992 has introduced changes in legislation and funding which have shifted the onus of that adjustment to the organisations themselves. This study is placed at the fundamental core of the tension between an institution struggling with the changing nature of its purpose and non-traditional students with changing expectations. Through analysis of daily journals and semi-structured interviews with 16 students and 12 staff, it explores the interpretations which both sets of actors take from student/institution interaction, and does so with respect to the student’s holistic life context rather than viewing only the learner role. Particular emphasis is placed on the losses and gains from the experience, including examination of what a degree symbolises in personal, fiscal and psychological terms. Based on a synthesis of literature reviews and empirical data, the study categorises the Mature students into three groups according to experiential themes within the student journey, drawing out theoretical and policy contributions from the process. Although mismatches are shown to exist between student and staff expectations of institutional purpose, a contemporary, and valid, role for the Ancient institution is outlined in terms of developing individual agency.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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